Confused about whether to grow from seed or starter plants? Which way is the best way to go? Truth is, a lot of our cool season crops can be started either way... or both.
As we are all getting ready to plant out our spring crops, you may be wondering which route to take.
If you did not top dress with manure in the fall, you can do so now. All of these veggies will thrive in soil that is rich, full of organic matter (manure/compost), most prefer full sun, with once a week watering.
The following can all be planted right now, late March or early April, about 3 weeks before the last frost date, from either seed or seedling. They all actually like rain and cool soil temps.
You will notice that carrots, parsnips, beets and beans are not on the list, is a bit early for them yet, hold off for a few more weeks. They will not do well, will just rot in the ground if planted into this cool soil.
Tip #1. The best seedlings are the ones that are still young, about 3 or 4 inches tall and kinda flopsy. If they are root bound in the cell packs, do not buy them, they will not thrive and may just bolt right away without giving you any crops. Plant all seedlings just slightly deeper than they were in the cell packs.
Tip #2. I plant both seeds and starter plants now, at the same time. The seeded plants will mature about 2 weeks later than the seedlings. Easy peasy succession sowing without having to do a thing extra. No more trying to remember to go back to toss in more seeds. This gives me ample cool season veggies to harvest before they bolt and get yanked out of the garden, to make room for my warm weather goodies.
Tip #3. Seedlings will die if they dry out during the germination process. Keep the soil moist until you see growth popping through the soil. You need a spray wand or watering can for this surface watering. After germination, give them a thorough deep soak once a week, use drip tubes or weeping hoses for this, a wand will not water deeply enough to give you sturdy, thriving veggies.
Broccoli/broccolini - Cut the main head of broccoli when of good size and it will develop many smaller side shoots, thus lengthening your harvest.
Broccolini types will produce lots of smaller shoots with no primary head. I love this one.
Seed - Plant a couple of seeds every 6" to 12" at about 1/2" deep. They will germinate quickly, in just 2 or 3 days. Pinch out the main stem of the broccolini/broccoli raab/rapini types about a month after sowing to promote bushiness and many more shoots.
Starter - Plant 12" apart and just slightly deeper than they were in the container.
Cauliflower - Does best from starter plant.
Starter - Plant into rich, well draining soil with 6 to 8 hours of sunlight. Needs regular moisture to thrive and produce well. Plant 12" to 18" apart in rich soil.
Cauliflower needs to be blanched or the curds will turn yellow and bitter. When the curds are still small, fold or tie the leaves over the curds, an elastic band works great for this. Not too tight as you still want the head of curds to grow.
Seeds - pre-start in an unheated greenhouse or on windowsill.
Spinach - Easier to start from seed as does not like it's roots disturbed, but if you prefer starter plants, make sure to buy young seedlings that are not root bound in the cell packs.
Seed - Plant seeds 1/2" deep into a sunny or part shady bed, 1 inch apart or scatter sow in broad rows(like feeding chickens). Thin as they grow by harvesting every second plant.
Starter - Plant 8" to 12" apart.
Lettuce - Super easy to start by direct sowing seeds or from starter plants. Make sure you have well draining soil and a sunny to part shady area. I always grow both.
Seeds - Sow 1/4" deep in rows or broadcast sown and thin out as they sprout. I like to let them get big enough to use as baby greens and pull out every second plant to 'thin' them out.
Leaf lettuce - 2"to 4" apart. Can be sown every 2 weeks for a continuous supply of fresh greens.
Loose head lettuce - 4" to 8" apart
Iceberg types/firm lettuce heads - 12" to 16" apart.
Greens like mustard, kale, arugula, mache and mesclun mixes - Plant as for the lettuce in well-draining soil, 1/4" deep into a sunny or part shady bed. Can be sown every 2 weeks for succession crops of continuous fresh greens.
Seeds - Scatter sow into broad rows or plant 2" apart in rows, if you prefer.
These are usually considered cut and come again types, meaning that you harvest the outer leaves but leave the centre part to grow. Before you know it, you will soon be harvesting greens again.
Starter - Plant 6" to 12" apart, read the label as spacing will differ between the different types of greens.
Radishes - Grow and mature quickly from seed. Sow 1/2' deep and 2" apart, tamp down. Keep moist till germination, harvest in 4 weeks time.
Cabbage- Plant in rich, well-amended soil, is a heavy feeder.
Seed - 1/2" deep into well draining soil. Plant a couple of seeds every 8" to 12". Thin out to 12" to 18" apart as they grow.
These seedlings can easily be moved into a new location instead of being tossed out, they transplant well. Read the package for size at maturity as the size of heads tends to vary widely.
Starter - Plant 12" to 18" apart. The closer they are together the smaller the heads will be. Read the mature size on the label. Some varieties (like Red Rock) get huge!
Swiss Chard - Grow in well draining, rich, soil. Can be grown all spring and summer, does not bolt in the heat like lettuce and most other greens do.
Seeds - Plant 1/2" deep, 1" to 2" apart and thin to 4" to 6" apart as they grow.
Starter - Plant 4" to 8" apart.
Kohlrabi - Grow in well draining soil, is easy to grow. Kohlrabi sit on top of the soil, unlike the turnip which is mostly buried. Sweeter than the turnip, crunchy and mild.
Seed - Easy to start from seed. Plant 1/4" deep, an inch or two apart. Thin to 5 inches apart.
Starter- Plant in rows about 5" apart.
Turnips - Grown from seeds, very undemanding to grow. Well-draining, loose soil, water once a week. Sow 1/4" deep, 1" to 2' apart.
Is often grown for both the greens and the roots. You can start to harvest the greens when young and tender, in just 3 or 4 weeks time and thin to 4" apart. Turnips are ready 5 or 6 weeks from sowing.
Peas - Super easy to grow from seed. Sugar peas, shelling peas, and snow peas are all grown the same way. (This also applies to the flowers, to Sweet Peas). Now is the time, seed or starters.
Seed - Soak seeds for 24 hours before planting to speed up germination. Sow on both side of the trellis, 2 inches apart, 1 inch deep. Keep soil moist till germination. Pinch out the tops of the pea shoots when about 4" to 6" tall, this will promote branching and thereby more peas.
Starter - Plant 2" to 3" apart. Soak well once a week.
Onions - Grow from seeds, sets, or starter plants. I am not a fan of sets, they rarely bulb up as well as seeds or seedlings. For best results, go with seeds or seedlings.
Seed - Sow 1/2" deep and about 4" apart. When the tops are about 3" tall, trim them to 1" tall to help form bigger bulbs.
Seedling - Plant 4" to 6" apart in a shallow trench, just the white part gets buried. Snip the tops of the seedling to 1" tall to help them root in faster and make bigger bulbs.
For how to plant and grow, See the link HERE!
Sets- Plant 2" deep and 4" to 6" apart.
Both Dill and Cilantro can be sown now from seed or starter plants. I do both so that I have fresh herbs all season long.
Dill - I like to plant at least one dill plant to start with, as early as I can, for my early spuds, fish dishes, and salads, but I also toss in a few seeds here and there, throughout the spring season, for a constant supply all summer. These early sown dills will be finished well before pickling season, so start a few more seeds or plants in late spring to put up your cukes.
Cilantro will bolt and go to seed as soon as the heat sets in, so to enjoy it for as long as possible, go with both seeds and starter plants now. Sow fresh seeds every 2 weeks, keep well watered to slow down the bolting, and harvest regularly. Leave in one or two plants for the summer, as the flowers are a great food source for our pollinators and beneficial insects.
Basil is easiest grown from starter plants, as is parsley. Most perennial herbs, like oregano, rosemary, thyme, etc... are easiest to grow from starters as they take so long to germinate and size up.
Happy sowing and growing!